At a time when so much of the energy in and around bluegrass seems to be centered on envelope-pushing and stylistic redefinitions, it is refreshing to find a young band dedicated to writing and recording in the old time way.
Even if you enjoy and welcome new offshoots, as I do, it is still a treat to hear new music from Windy Hill, a young quartet from San Francisco who unashamedly and forthrightly proclaim their love for the old ways. But unlike similar acts who primarily feature their versions of the music from the 1950s, these guy write their own material. All but three of the tracks on Lonesome Garbage Man, were written within the band.
And keeping with this vibe, it was recorded live in the studio to analog tape, excepting the harmony vocals. Unlike the early bands, these guys are a bit more generous with their music, including a total of 18 tracks on the new CD.
I’ll not attempt comparisons to the early practitioners, and just say that Windy Hill captures a raw and real sound that absolutely brings the pioneers to mind. To their credit, these modern Californians do not affect accents or mimic vocal mannerisms of days gone by. It’s just them, playing and singing their original traditional music.
Ryan Breen plays banjo, Thomas Willie, guitar, Henry Warde mandolin, and Kyle McCabe bass. Breen, Willie, and Warde handle the vocals. Neither of them are particularly noteworthy singers, but they handle their role admirably throughout.
Guests on the album include Jason Stapleton on guitar, Tom Cline on resonator guitar, and both Paul Shelasky and Kyle O’Brien on fiddle.
The album starts with a short banjo tune, Pinecone Banjo, from Breen just as a live show from the ’50s might started. The songs cover common bluegrass themes, often in clever ways. Just To See Who’s In My Place tells of a distraught lover who follows his girl to the movies to see who she is meeting there. The title track is a semi-serious number from Willie about a sad-hearted fellow whose chorus begins, “I’m a walking piece of trash that you threw into the garbage.”
A Fool And His Honey uses the 6-2-5-1 changes familiar from Don’t Let Your Deal Go Down for its verse. Of course, the “fool and his honey are soon to part.”
Breen is a skillful banjoist who shines on the several instrumentals, and in supporting the vocalists. Particularly strong is his D-tuning picking on The Game Of Love Is A Gamble and Peter’s Dream. His Love You Miss You Bye is also strong, with its use of the D-tuners in the key of G. Warde plays mandolin in a Monroe-esque style, with an old time edge, and contributes a of instrumentals of his own.
Lonesome Garbage Man closes with a cover of Reno & Smiley’s Baby Down The Line, followed by a bonus track, Bluegrass Anthem, written by Jason Stapleton.